Ah, the emergency book. After the marathon slog through Q, I needed a quick read so One Day in the Life..., which comes in at 140 pages, was perfect. With half the year gone, I should have read 13 books. As you can see, I'm two books behind. Fifteen books in the next six months seems a lot but I'm still quietly confident.
One Day in the Life... is set inside a Soviet labour camp in the 1950s. Ivan Denisovich Shukhov is serving a ten year sentence and Solzhenitsyn shows us just one day of his life in prison.
It's a shocking book. First published in 1962, it showed the world the deprivation and brutality of the gulag. Shukhov has to cope with extreme cold, near starvation and arbitrary punishments. His is a world where a few extra grams of bread are a luxury and a piece of scavenged scrap can be a source of income.
Solzhenitsyn knew all of this first hand. He spent eight years in a series of labour camps before being exiled in 1953. He handles his material here with a matter-of-fact tone which is crucial to the book's success. The simplicity and honesty of the story, never slipping into sentimentality or bitterness, is what makes it so powerful.
Sadly, this kind of unjust incarceration did not disappear with Stalin. It still continues all over the world. That's one reason to read this book.